Halloween RetroVision – Resident Evil’s “Sweet Home”

Resident Evil is a brand synonymous with gaming, and Horror especially.  Considered one of the pillars of the genre, S.T.A.R.S.’s exploration of the mysterious Spencer Mansion on PlayStation, was for many, their first taste of horror in a game.  In many ways, Resident Evil is the point where Horror became mainstream in gaming, in turn changing the public perception of the video game industry as a whole.  However, despite Resident Evil being one of the founding fathers of the “Survival Horror” genre, a term first used to describe the original Japanese release (titled Biohazard), Resident Evil’s terrifying origins are not found within films or books, but rather within an 8-bit game that was also developed by Capcom.  That game is Sweet Home.

First released in 1989 on the Nintendo Famicom, Sweet Home is a psychological horror RPG, one that was based on the Japanese film of the same name.  It was directed by Tokuro Fujiwara, a man who knew a thing or two about creating monsters in 8-bit, thanks to his other famous creation, Ghosts ‘N’ Goblins.  For Sweet Home though, Fujiwara and his team were determined to create a true horror experience, and wanted this to be fundamental to both the gameplay, and the story.

Sweet Home Cover
Original cover for Sweet Home that simply oozes Horror.

Sweet Home’s story sees a team of five documentary film makers enter a deserted mansion in the Japanese mountains, in order to recover some lost hidden paintings.  However, upon arriving, a ghostly woman traps them all inside the mansion, and threatens to kill them all.  The team decide to split up and search for a way out, but the ghostly woman is not the only dark secret the mansion holds, and the team soon start to find themselves facing a crumbling mansion, and more horrors than they could have dreamt of.

Sound familiar?  It may not exactly resemble the plot of Resident Evil, but you can certainly see the resemblance.  Within the story there are also further resemblances, such as Fujiwara expanding the story by including diary entries left behind 50 years ago by the previous owner.  This aspect is something Resident Evil fans will vividly remember.

Sweet Home
In game screenshot of Sweet Home

In fact, whilst nowadays Sweet Home is credited with being the inspiration for the “Mansion Incident”, Resident Evil was actually originally planned to be a full-on remake.  Legendary video game designer Shinji Mikami was placed in charge of this project, a project that would become his first foray into a genre that he has been fundamental in shaping.  Something seen through critically acclaimed titles such as Resident Evil 4, Dino Crisis, The Evil Within, and of course, both the original Resident Evil, and its 2001 GameCube remake.

As such, the setting isn’t the only comparison that can be made between the two horror titles.  Where the role-playing elements didn’t survive the transition, many others did, with all of these surviving elements going on to become a critical part of the survival horror genre.  For example, resources are few and far between, something that’s also true of your limited inventory slots, mirroring Resident Evil’s inventory management system.

Sweet Home Door
The door loading screens that Resident Evil made famous.

What’s more, the mansion featured in Sweet Home is riddled with convoluted and complex puzzles that the team have to solve in order to escape.  Furthermore, in order to escape, they’ll also have to pass through multiple tense “door opening” loading screens, something else made famous by Resident Evil.  Ultimately though, Sweet Home focused players on the notion of survival, rather than victory, featuring an unsettling atmosphere right from the moment the cartridge is inserted.

Sadly, Sweet Home never saw a release outside of Japan, something that was more than likely born out of the game’s heavily Japanese setting, and the notion of the NES being a family device in the west.  This would also explain the change of setting to America, when adapting the title into the famous horror franchise that has been experienced by millions of gamers around the world.  Nevertheless, given the game’s connection to Resident Evil, fans have looked to make this game more accessible to those who may have missed it first time round by completely translating the title into English, akin to projects such as Mother 3‘s translation.  So next time you play Resident Evil, remember, the Spencer Mansion isn’t the only dark secluded mansion that holds horrifying secrets.  No wonder us gamers are afraid of mansions…. or is that just me?

Simon Aubrey Drake

A lifelong gamer with a fanatical love of all things Nintendo and Japan. So much so that I've written a thesis on one and lived in the other. Currently on a quest to catch every last Pokémon. Follow me on twitter via @DudeXChill or @RingsandCoins.

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